High Sierra Is an Unpretentious Shredfest

Article by: Eamon Armstrong|@EamonArmstrong

Mon June 26, 2017 | 11:00 AM

Finally, a California music festival with exceptional performances, eye-catching costumes and an incredible vibe without all the intensity and self-importance of a life-changing experience. With a summer full of events promising transformation, it’s refreshing just to get down to some noodley bluegrass in the mountains. High Sierra Music Festival (HSMF) takes place every year over the July 4th weekend at the Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds a few hours north of San Francisco. The event looks a lot like other west coast festivals with expressive outfits, legacy tribes, cool art and breathtaking performances, but there is something missing...and in this case less is definitely more. Without the ostentatiousness of defining a new way of living, HSMF is an epic experience that is also completely unassuming.

Leave Your Pilgrimage At Home

High Serra Music Festival 2014 Art Gimbel 33

Photo by: Art Gimbel

Getting into and out of some festivals can feel like a hero’s journey, waiting in line for hours to earn the right to participate. Not High Sierra. With the exception of a challenging landgrab to get the shadiest spots, getting into the festival couldn’t be easier. Where else can you park on the road right outside the fest? Meanwhile, there is a public pool and various swimming holes right outside the fairgrounds. So if you feel like taking a break from the heat, rejuvenation is just around the corner.

The Grass is Always Bluer

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Dom Flemons of Carolina Chocolate Drops | David Berry Creative Commons

High Sierra offers an impressive and eclectic live music bill. Festival favorites like Beats Antique, STS9 and The Polish Ambassador are offset by extraordinarily talented pickers and strummers. There’s something grounding in the perky tunes of mountain jams. If electronic music is your cool, energetic little brother, then bluegrass is your laid-back cousin who knows what’s really hip. Check out the likes of Carolina Chocolate Drops, Keller Williams, Achilles Wheel, and Liquid Kactus (shown in the top image). 

So Family Friendly

High Sierra Music Festival 2016 Courtesy Of Hsmf 1

In the words of attendee Beth Kittle, "High Sierra feels safe, cozy, and full of good vibes partly because of the diversity of the crowd and age range. The festival is 26 years old, and people respect it and the people who maintain it. And the people there have their fun – there is no shortage of raging. But for the most part they do it responsibly, so that everyone is afforded the opportunity to reach maximum party enjoyment. Everyone is there to play with each other, and they do it so well." Plus the presence of actual children wards off the legions of teenage molly goblins endemic to the festival scene. 

Killer Costumes, Zero Fashion

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Festival fashion is a big deal these days. Events like Coachella are see-and-be-seen affairs where celebrities are paid handsomely by big brands to show off their threads. But at High Sierra the clothing is comfy, colorful and often pretty ridiculous. It’s a great place to look fabulous without taking yourself too seriously.

Art Cars? 

High Sierra Bus Meme

Now you can ride a bus while you're riding a bus.

Small Venue, Big Lineup

High Sierra Music Festival 2014 Sterling Munksgard Widespread Panic

Widespread Panic | Photo by: Sterling Munksgard

Forget the vast desert expanse of Burning Man , or the many bridges of Lightning in a Bottle , High Sierra packs it all into an easy-to-navigate fairground. In spite of the short commute between stages there’s still room to dance your face off wherever you go and plenty of shade for the peak summer heat. Meanwhile the lineup is huge and most artists perform twice. With two separate days of performances, the artists stick around and jump into some heady megajams or start playing on top of a bus.

Sunrise Kickball

If you can make to sunrise, a hilarious game of kickball will take you right back to grade school.

Funny > Inspirational

High Serra Music Festival 2014 Art Gimbel 1

It’s all about setting the tone, and the silly signs set up around the festival define it perfectly.

At Everfest we adore all the world’s great festivals and we have a deep respect for events that change the course of a person’s life. Nonetheless, High Sierra provides performances of a lifetime with great friends and a breathtaking backdrop without any pressure to achieve personal growth. And that makes this little California music festival a breath of fresh mountain air.

All photos by Art Gimbel unless otherwise noted.